Funerals -- a Survivors' Guide

I am not a morbid person. Honestly. True, this is the third hub I've written on the subject of funerals and dying. With any luck, I will be taking a long hiatus to write about the joys of sending a son off to his senior prom, then college.

But for right now, the subject at hand is still funerals. Specifically, Mighty Mom's fresh-from-the-crematorium list of do's, dont's and general observations.

24 carat gold to go in the ground? Whose guilt is that?
24 carat gold to go in the ground? Whose guilt is that?

Planning the Funeral --Details Matter

Awhile back I wrote a hub about planning your own funeral. My Dad, who died November 24th, had almost all the important details dialed in. Still, the execution of his wishes could not have been done without the full cooperation of his three children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.

Probably the most important thing I can tell you is that funerals are expensive. Now prices may vary depending on where you live. I'm basing this on "Bay Area" (San Francisco) prices, which tend to be high by US standards. But my point is that you will need ready access to thousands of dollars when all is said and done.

This is a conservative estimate. We did a very straightforward cremation and funeral -- no wake. This meant we circumvented a casket (big money), but still had the following coordinated through (read: paid for through) the mortuary:

1. Cremation

2. Cremains box

3. Prayer cards printing

4. Obituary/funeral notice -- appearance in three newspapers. Although we wrote it, the notices are charged by the inch (like a classified ad). This can add up.

5, Guest book for the church.

6. The mortuary also advised people wishing to send flowers how to get them sent directly to the church.

Total to Mortuary = $3,000

Expenses related to the service itself:

1. Fee paid to the parish

2. Fee paid to the celebrant

3. Fees paid to the organist, soloist and bagpiper

Service related expenses: $700

She Gets a "D" for Dignified

More Expenses

Very likely you'll have to travel to the funeral site. That means (potentially) last-minute airfare or gas (thank God gas prices have dropped!), hotels and meals.

Many people have appropriate funeral attire right in their closets. A dark suit works for gentlemen. Some variation on the "little black dress" (but not too evening-y or revealing unless covered by a jacket) or dark suit for women. Be sure to check for moth holes! Seriously, this is a real concern, as not one, but two people at my Dad's service had holes in their suit coats. Make sure your suit fits. Who wants to feel squeezed when they're already feeling sad???

More than likely you'll have to spring for at least a sport jacket or dress for your kids. My nephews got new suits but by with sneakers. I made sure my son (the eldest grandchild) dressed right. By right I mean brand new suit, shirt, tie, handkerchief, socks and shoes. Oh, and a set of smaller, more tasteful dark blue earrings to replace is large faux diamond studs. It all adds up.

Our family also sent flowers. We sent two arrangements from the grandkids and an arrangement from the kids. There's another $300.

The After Party

It's common etiquette to host a reception for those who take the time to come to the funeral service. Usually there's a hall next to the church. Many churches have auxiliary leagues that will organize and cater the party for you. But if you want something more specific or special, you may opt to do lunch at a restaurant or go back to the family home.

Any way you look at it, this is the equivalent of planning (and paying for) a party for dozens of grieving people. They will eat anythng you put out. They will drink everything you put out.

Oh yes: If the party is at your house, there's the added time/expense of cleaning before and after. I don't know about you, but my brother doesn't keep his home in funeral-ready condition. Neither do I, for that matter.

The Family After Party

We extended our day to include a second post-funeral event. The family, the priest, and a few close friends went out to dinner. It was a nice affair that gave us the opportunity to reminisce ,,,and drop another grand.

But Wait...There's More!

My Dad's funeral was on Wednesday. The following Sunday we had a memorial service at Springfield Place, the Retirement/Assisted Living Facility where he lived. They lose a lot of residents to death, so they have the memorial service down to a fine art. Well, not "fine" per se, but they do know how to set the chairs out so that wheelchairs and walkers can fit through.

I thought it was a nice idea and was particularly delighted that they said they'd cater it (cookies and tea). Come to find out, they'll be charging it to my Dad's final bill. Suddenly it doesn't strike me as so generous after all...

And after that's done we still have the interrment of the cremains to contend with. My Dad had his plot all pre-paid (another $1,200). He bought the space right next to Mom's -- how romantic. We're looking into capitalizing on his WWII service. I understand the Veterans' Administration will send us an American flag and have taps played. I may also bring the bagpiper back. I'm sure we'll go out to eat again. Something about funerals seem to make people hungry, and thirsty!

Shine On!

Freddie (Mercury) Does Funerals!

It's Just Another Day

Some words of advice for getting yourself through the day without falling apart.That old Paul McCartney song popped into my head and I just couldn't get it out. Turns out it was a good diversion. I found it most useful as I tried semi-desperately to stay in control and not break down.

I think it helped make the service feel more "normal" to drive up in our own cars rather than a limo. On the way over we stopped at Starbucks -- just like any other day. My husband turned on Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." Now my Dad had absolutely no connection to that song -- but it struck me as the perfect music to be listening to on the way to a funeral. On the way back we listened to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as chosen by my son. Again, a little private joke.

In between, I held it together by getting out of myself. This may sound awful, but it really worked (for me). If you have the luxury of attending the funeral with no public reading or speaking duties, go ahead and bawl your eyes out. But if you are required to read a passage, or, as I was, deliver the eulogy, composure counts.

I maintained mine by listening with only one ear to the priest. I patently refused to look at my sister (who was very emotional). I looked at the crucifix on the wall. I looked over at the Christmas tree which was decorated in all white. I looked at the pianist and soloist. I didn't zone out of the service completely -- just enough to keep its meaning from sinking in and sinking me into depression.

Look at it this way: There's plenty of time for reflection in the days and weeks to come. I had job to do and there was no way I was going to blow it.

Care and Feeding of Living

When a loved one dies, no matter how prepared you think you are, everything feels surreal. Time feels warped. You're literally running on adrenaline. It's essential to keep your energy up. Try to remember to eat -- anything that seems remotely appealing is better than eating nothing.

Stay hydrated. The temptation may be to drown your sorrows. Hold off until you can really let your guard down. You can't afford to lose hours or days to a hangover.

And you can't let yourself get run down. You've got important work to do and not a lot of time to get it done. You can crash later, but not yet.

Funeral for a Friend

Advice to Friends of the Grieving Person

There is no wrong way to comfort a grieving friend. Any expression of sympathy will be appreciated. Phone messages, e-cards, e-mails are all good. Just sitting and listening is wonderful. Sympathy cards are really nice also. The only "wrong" thing is to not acknowledge their loss. It WILL be noticed.

If you have personal experience with the deceased, be sure to mention a recollection or special memory. If you can bridge with your own experience losing, for example your own father or mother, mention something specific about how you coped. I had a good friend tell me about how she and her dad used to look up at the geese migrating. It was a ritual they shared before he died. Now, when I see geese flying in formation, it reminds me of her, of her dad, and of course of my dad.

As I mentioned on the Hubbers Hangout forum, I was truly overwhelmed with the outpouring from fellow hubbers. Beautiful comments, even original poems. Grief IS universal.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Okay, sure. Death can be creepy. It can be awkward. You don't know how your friend/business associate/neighbor who just lost a loved one might react. You may feel unsure how to approach him/her.

Your first instinct is probably to be helpful. Great impulse! Now just follow it. Instead of some vague "if there's anything you need, please let us know" offer, take matters into your own hands. Don't put the poor grieving person on the spot to tell you what they need (as if they even have a clue -- remember, their world is upside down at this point). Think of something you think they would need. Think what you would want in this situation. Think basic: Food. Diversion. Company. Errands. Babysitting.

When my single friend Mary's father passed, I took her out on the town. She remembers that gesture to this day.

When my Hubby and I arrived home following my Dad's passing we found a care basket on our doorstep. In it was a quart of soup, a loaf of French bread, and a book of Shel Silverstein poems. Now there's a friend who gets it.

Later in the week another friend brought another big pot of soup. And another stopped by just to check on us, bringing a lovely rosemary plant. And in between friends literally carried me out for coffee. A lot.

Simple things bring comfort. And comfort will be needed for weeks following the funeral, so continue to check in and make yourself available.

I wish you peace as you grapple with losing a loved one or with supporting someone you care about in their grief. As for me, I think it's time to start thinking about my next hub. Definitely won't be about funerals!

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Comments 20 comments

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

MM, this is a wonderful hub that should be very valuable to those who will face the loss of a loved one and for those who are friends of others facing such a loss.

It must be very difficult to go through all those etiquette motions when you're in such a state of grief. When my father died, my aunts took care of everything, so I didn't have the added pressure of dealing with all those details. I feel for you that you had to even bother with thinking of such things. What your friends did for you is so wonderful. Simple gestures mean so much.

Thank you for laying out the fine details of such a sensitive issue as death and funeral expenses. I was clueless about much of it.


Triplet Mom profile image

Triplet Mom 7 years ago from West Coast

Wow great detailed hub on a subject that I hope I do not have to deal with anytime soon. Even though this might be seen as a touchy subject I appreciate the fact that you have it all laid out for those of us that truly would have no idea what to do. Thanks!


Barbie-Perkins profile image

Barbie-Perkins 7 years ago from Cincinnati, OH

Mighty Mom,

Thanks for sharing the details of your father's funeral.

I am truly sorry for the loss of your father.

May the Lord give your peace and comfort in the loss of your precious father.  ~  Barbie Perkins


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Thanks for visiting, everyone. Pam, I must say that going through those etiquette motions really helped me. I realized that other people had a stake in my dad's death, too. The funeral is for the community, not just the family. I wanted to make sure that everyone (esp. the party at his retirement home) gave everyone the closure they so need.

And in a way, being occupied with the details was the perfect thing to keep me going. I was afraid I would crash and become a mass of helpless jello:-). But you raise a good point. Even though I wrote the eulogy for my Mom's, that was the extent of my involvement. My Dad handled the nitty gritty. Much different when you are on the front lines. It sure made me feel like a grownup!

Triplet Mom -- I hope you don't have to do this anytime soon either! The mortuary is a great resource. They have checklists, etc. But as with everything, it's best to be an informed, rather than emotional (read: vulnerable) consumer!

Barbie-Perkins -- The Good Lord has been with us every minute. I was in the room when the angels came for my Dad, and God has guided every decision and made the funeral and memorial service perfect. Faith is so essential in grief. Thank you for your kind words. MM


Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

great hub


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Thanks, Lgali. Your black lingerie, while lovely and fetching on you, is NOT appropriate for a funeral:-)!!! Maybe if you add a black veil:-)!!!


Leta S 7 years ago

MM-

I hate funerals.  The last ones I attended were my grandparents'--where, in my 20's, I cried my eyes out. 

I know that I can count on my little sis, however, still back in the Midwest, to help with my mom & dad (as she has always done) as they get older.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of my favorties!  Hope you are doing OK and getting through...


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi Lita!! I've overcome my hatred/fear of hospitals by repeated visits. Same with funerals. In the last few years I've been to several. Still, it's different when it's your own family. Glad you have a little sis who is the caretaker in your family. We all have a role -- maybe you will be the official writer (obit, eulogy) as I was.

Shel Silverstein is so imaginative. My son and I used to read Falling Up together. So getting a SS book was very appropriate. Thanks for visiting. See ya around the HP!


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Very beautifully written MM, and a source of great comfort to others who have been recently bereaved I am sure. Ironically my first Husband died on Nov 23rd 2001, so almost the same day as your Father did but some years back now. My thoughts are with you as I know how painful a bereavement can be, especially at this time of year and so close to Christmas.


Susan M 7 years ago

First, my condolences on the loss of your father...I lost my father almost 20 years ago but some days it feels like yesterday...A well written hub that everyone should read before they have to deal with planning and attending the funeral of a close relative. I read one of the readings at my fathers funeral and did the same thing as you...I zoned out for a bit...walked up to the altar...gave the reading (I heard I did a wonderful job with the reading but as I have no recollection of it I'll have to take their word for it), went back to my pew and shook uncontrollably for the next ten minutes. Luckily my husband was right there with me. Wonderful advice on a difficult topic -- I look forward to additional hubs of yours!


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi Susan M. I relate 100% to your experience. What you describe is more like what I did at my Mom's funeral in 2005. I guess I "learned" from my "mistake" how to hold myself together (This time we saved Amazing Grace for the recessional -- smart move:-). It's so, so surreal, isn't it? I think the only reason I was able to continue holding it together after my reading and all the way through the service was I knew I had to pay everyone and didn't want to be in an un-businesslike condition to do so. Weird how our mind gets us through. Now that the major events are over I feel completely wiped out. As in EXHAUSTED. So great to have my Hubpals to relate to. Cheers!


tourmaline2777 profile image

tourmaline2777 7 years ago from Chicago

Great Hub! Something that no one really wants to think about but really should.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi Tourmaline, There are lots of such things in life, I'm finding -- as I finally accept my role as an ADULT. This is the real stuff of real life. And guess what -- EVERYONE will go through this as some point. Not exactly this way, but in a way that is unique to them. I'm glad you stopped by and commented, MM


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

Mighty Mom, just writing to say hope all is well and I know you are taking it day by day still as you go through "the where I have been and where I am going" aftermath. Great selection of music and especially the Pink Floyd song. At my grandpa's funeral they played Johnny Cash's solitary man and for the mere reason he liked to play solitaire. But strangely before the funeral I had thought of that song for the essence of it and how if any song decribed my grandpa(who I feel I am very much like) that would be it. I kept that thought to myself as I listened and its like he knew I what thinking and feeling.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hey thanks, Goldentoad! I love your story about Johnny Cash and your grandpa. Your family seems neat if they would play JC at a funeral! I have my whole list of musical selections I want played at my funeral on my hub "Is it morbid to plan your own funeral?" Of course I keep adding to this list:-).

Hope all is well down there in So Cal, too. Neat to have this global community of funny and supportive friends to get us through -- our days and the holidays -- isn't it? Thanks again. MM


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

I know that when my father went, it was hard. I'm glad that I didn't have to worry about funeral planning. He had every single detail taken care including the cost since he knew he was going. My mother only had to decide which day and that was more on when I could get there.

You are right about how to approach someone grieving. I do say that I try not to say it's going to be alright, because for some people they cannot see any of that right now. I've found that just showing them love and sympathy is more than they asked for. A shoulder to cry on or an ear to yell at can be the best gift of all as they go through their grief stages.


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Hi RGraf, I'm sorry for your loss but am in awe of people who do have all the details taken care of. It's such a gift to the family.

Now that it's a month since my dad's death I find my grief is finally catching up with me. But for everyone else -- it's old news, ya know? Oh well. I'm grateful for my friends on HP who keep me propped up and occupied. Happy holidays, my dear, MM


Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

Wonderful hub


Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA Author

Thanks, Lgali. Hopefully you won't be facing this life challenge anytime soon. Peace, MM


Jack Hagan profile image

Jack Hagan 14 months ago from New York

Your guide is a worthy source of info about the death and funeral. I think we can make our family relaxed by pre-planning our funeral. They will not have to do any preparations and arrangements if we have already planned everything before our death.

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